David Walliams is set to delve into his family history on a brand new episode of BBC One’s Who Do You Think You Are? this October.
In the episode, which was filmed seven months ago, The Britain’s Got Talent judge discovered not one, but two very “emotional” stories about his family history.
First, Walliams learned of his father’s grandfather who fought in fought in WW1. He was very badly shell-shocked and spent the rest of his life in a Mental Health Hospital.
Up until the 1960s, he lived in what was described as a “lunatic asylum” on the show, and died after 43 years battling with his mental health.
Hearing about this brought up emotions for Walliams who compared his great-great-grandfather’s experience to “hell”.
He said: “It’s just a very sad story. Although I think he was very well cared for later in life, it’s not something you would wish on anybody. I’m sure that there were many other men who had the same experience. Those signing up to fight in France in 1914 did not know what hell was awaiting them there. Even if you were lucky to get out alive, it was very likely that you’d be affected for the rest of your life by the trauma of being in these terrible battles.”
Walliams found comfort in his ancestor being able to use art as a means of “escapism” and sympathised with him in this way.
Although he admitted he’d never been through anything as devastating as his great-great-grandad, he said he also looked to creativity in times of need.
“There is one positive part to this story, which I think is the paintings because the paintings make me think his life here couldn’t have been terrible because he had a creative outlet that he cared about and in my life… look, I’ve gone through nothing like him, but times when I’ve felt down, I’ve felt grateful to be creative because it’s an escape. I’m glad he had the paintings,” he explained.
The second story was about Walliams’ grandmother on his mother’s side and her grandfather – a blind showman who Walliams described a “colourful man”.
The comedian warmed to the man, who went by the name of William Hanes, who worked his way up from his very humble beginnings to owning a fun fair.
His grandmother had never told him about William as she was ashamed of their poverty – something Walliams found quite emotional to deal with.
Speaking of the troubling stories, Walliams said: “It was emotional, because those lives are so different from my own, and so difficult too. Neither life was enviable. Obviously, ending up in a Mental Health Hospital after being shell-shocked is hellish, and as for the showman, being blind, especially then, must have been hard.”
Despite William Hanes’ struggles, Walliams was relieved to discover a “link” between himself and his ancestor when it came to career paths.
“Well I was glad that there was some link, because obviously you are often thinking about what shaped you, why did you get drawn to certain things – being on stage, or trying to make people laugh, or writing stories whatever it is.” he said.
“So, the fact that he was quite a flamboyant character and was a performer of sorts – I mean, he had an organ and a monkey and he used to play his organ on the streets, and the monkey would have a little hat and collect money. That is what his job was, so not quite the same as me, but he did something to entertain people.”
Feeling a great sense of pride, he added: “He seemed to be eternally optimistic – he was just winding up the organ, but said on a form he was a professional musician, which makes you think he might have played the violin in an orchestra! And to become part of the travelling community – and become a showman, that’s quite something, because it’s a closed world as it’s passed on from generation to generation.”
Who Do You Think You Are? is on Mondays on BBC One at 9pm. To find out what else is on in the meantime, check out our TV Guide.